Friday, February 26, 2010

Only little people have to go through security

Well, not true, actually, but Helena Guergis seems not to have realized this:

According to the account, Guergis and aide Emily Goucher arrived a few minutes before the scheduled takeoff of an Air Canada flight from Charlottetown to Montreal.

In the pre-boarding area, Guergis refused to remove her boots despite being informed that they might set off the security alarm in the metal detector, according to the letter received by Easter. When the alarm sounded, she was asked to sit down and remove her footwear.

Guergis "slammed her boots into the bin" provided by security personnel and then, according to the account, said to one of the airport staff: "Happy f---ing birthday to me. I guess I'm stuck on this hellhole."

Guergis, the MP for Simcoe-Grey, turned 41 on Feb. 19.

After her boots cleared the X-ray conveyor, Guergis, according to the account, yelled at Goucher: "Get those for me. I'm not walking around here in sock feet."

Guergis then allegedly tried to force open the locked door that separates the pre-board screening room from the area where the aircraft was waiting.

When a few moments later the minister was reminded that most passengers are asked to arrive at the airport two hours before boarding time, Guergis shouted back, according to the account: "I don't need to be lectured about flight time by you. I've been down here working my ass off for you people."

Guergis and her aide were ultimately allowed to board the flight.

Source (my bold). And they let her on the flight after that? If you or I had tried to force a locked security door at an airport, I doubt the outcome would have been the same.

Brief update, and interesting article

Well, it hasn't been too busy here, primarily because I've been busy with other things (the Concordia by-election, watching the Olympics, etc). I did come across an interesting story in the Carman Valley Leader though on the Youth for Christ controversy:

One question not being asked is if there's federal money going to YFC, what's left for much needed projects in rural Manitoba?

Anyhow, Martin has a reputation of being something of a hothead and is quick with the verbal jabs. While some of his comments regarding Christianity in general were off the mark, there's an important point being ignored.

That is many other community centres in Winnipeg, are starved for funding and are often turned away by Katz's city hall cohorts.

That $3.1 million would go a long way to rejuvenating a number of inner city facilities in need of help.

If you don't care for that point, then the $3.1 million would be about two year's worth police helicopter fuel and maintenance.

And let's face it, Martin hit the nail on the head when he pointed there would be widespread outrage if it was "Youth for Allah" slurping at the public trough.

Source. Yes, you read that right -- a Sun Media-owned paper, in the heart of Manitoba's Bible Belt, is defending Pat Martin. Obviously I agree with them, but it's interesting.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Germany not so keen on having nuclear weapons on their soil

Gee, I wonder why? Not surprisingly, talk of doing something about it makes the Americans a bit nervous:
The German government would like to see the withdrawal of all remaining American nuclear weapons stationed in Germany. But former NATO head George Robertson told SPIEGEL that it's not quite so easy. He says the demand 'is dangerous.'

When it became clear last year that Guido Westerwelle, a politician obsessed with domestic issues, would become Germany's next foreign minister, he quickly needed to flex his foreign policy muscles. And it didn't take him long to find an issue sure to be popular with German voters.

Not long after German general elections late last September, Westerwelle, head of the business-friendly Free Democrats -- junior coalition partners to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives -- reiterated his campaign demand that it was time to begin the process of removing the remaining atomic weapons based in Germany. He said the weapons were a "relic of the Cold War" and said they "no longer have a military purpose."

The demand quickly found its way into Merkel's coalition agreement. "We will advocate within the (NATO) Alliance and with our American allies the removal of the remaining nuclear weapons from Germany," the document reads.

But what sells well at home is not always well-received on the stage of geo-strategy and international security. In an interview with SPIEGEL this week, former NATO General Secretary George Robertson said that he considers the demand to be "simply dangerous."
From Der Spiegel. And why do they think they need these nukes? Because those big bad Russkies are just waiting to take over, of course:

He emphasized that any strategic shift must be discussed in detail with NATO member states further east. Negotiations with Russia on a reduction of its nuclear arsenal are also a must, he said.

NATO has some 200 short-range nuclear weapons stationed in Europe with an estimated 20 of those in Germany. Russia, however, possesses many times that amount -- Robertson mentioned 5,400 in his interview with SPIEGEL -- and there are many within NATO who favor using American nukes in Europe as a bargaining chip with Russia.

My question is, if Russia is as hostile and dangerous as these people think, how do they expect to be able to swap 20 nukes for a significant chunk of those 5,400 Russian bombs? They're not likely to be pushovers. Maybe if the Yanks offered to swap some of their strategic nukes they'd make some headway in that regard...

In any case, I don't think Russia is waiting to pounce on a helpless Europe. I don't think they were in a hurry to do so even for most of the Soviet era (well, after 1953 at least). The Cold War is over, folks. Time to move on, not to try to start it up again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A curious statement from Hillary Clinton

She made a peculiar claim today (h/t pogge):

Clinton went further on Tuesday, saying Iran's program threatens to dash hope of a nuclear-free Middle East.

"If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that hope disappears," she said, "because then other countries which feel threatened by Iran will say to themselves, 'If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, in order to protect my people.' "

My bold. No doubt Ms. Clinton knows very well that the Middle East probably hasn't been nuclear free for a long time, but I guess there are things you just don't talk about in her position.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Interview with Matt Wiebe

Curtis at Endless Spin Cycle has interviewed Matt Wiebe, the NDP candidate in the by-election in Concordia. Worth a read.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Teabagger charged with stockpiling illegal weapons

Apparently he was preparing for Armageddon, or Ragnarok, or Helter Skelter, or something:

A Manchester-by-the-Sea man who allegedly had a cache of weapons in his house told police he was preparing for Armageddon, authorities said yesterday.

Gregory D. Girard, 45, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with storing several tear-gas grenades and explosive pepper-ball projectiles. He was also charged with illegal possession of four police batons.

Girard faces four counts of possession of an infernal device and four counts of possession of a dangerous weapon. Additional charges are pending, police said.

Just before 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Manchester officers searched Girard’s home at 23 Bridge St., police said in a statement.

“He indicated to police that he anticipated some form of Armageddon to take place shortly and he was getting prepared,’’ Police Chief Glenn McKiel said.

In addition to the grenade-type devices, police found approximately 20 weapons, including high-powered rifles, shotguns, and handguns. All of the firearms were purchased and registered legally within the past 10 months, McKiel said.

Source (h/t jblaque). The scary thing is, people like him aren't that uncommon in present-day America.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another fundie praying for the deaths of his enemies

You may recall this post about those fine upstanding Christians praying for Obama's death. Good old jblaque has found a particularly charming example in Pastor Wiley Drake:
NEW YORK (ABP) -- A former Southern Baptist Convention officer who on June 2 called the death of abortion provider George Tiller an answer to prayer said later in the day he is also praying "imprecatory prayer" against President Obama.

Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., and former running mate of American Independent Party presidential candidate Alan Keyes, said June 2 on Fox News Radio he didn't understand why people were upset with his comments quoted by Associated Baptist Press from a webcast of his daily radio talk show.

"Imprecatory prayer is agreeing with God, and if people don't like that, they need to talk to God," Drake told syndicated talk-show host Alan Colmes. "God said it, I didn't. I was just agreeing with God."

Asked if there are others for whom Drake is praying "imprecatory prayer," Drake hesitated before answering that there are several. "The usurper that is in the White House is one, B. Hussein Obama," he said.

Later in the interview, Colmes returned to Drake's answer to make sure he heard him right.

"Are you praying for his death?" Colmes asked.

"Yes," Drake replied.

"So you're praying for the death of the president of the United States?"


From Associated Baptist Press, of all places. An audio of the interview is available here; Crooks and Liars have added a slideshow:

Of course, he's probably safe from incitement charges, since he says he's only praying for the deaths of those he opposes, not urging people to murder them. And now that one of his prayers has been answered without violence, he can point to that as the kind of thing he was praying for. Still, it wouldn't surprise me to see someone get "inspired" by the stuff he says...

Cons back on top

According to the latest EKOS poll, the Conservatives are now a smidgen ahead of the Liberals. What this would mean in terms of actual seats is up for debate. EKOS' Frank Graves concludes that this would lead to a razor-thin plurality for the Cons... but if you look closely at that article, his numbers add up to 318 seats, when there are only 308 seats in the House, so something's not right there. At ThreeHundredEight they project 110 seats for the Cons, 108 for the Liberals, 54 for the Bloc, and 36 for the NDP, which at least adds up. Either way, it means the Cons are beginning to recover a bit of the ground they lost... but only a bit.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see a seat projection in which the combined NDP, Green, and Liberal seats add up to 155 or more. Hopefully that'll change before the next election...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

HRM prepares for rising sea levels

Remarkably forward thinking for a municipal council:

City hall wants to prepare for a potential water level rise, over the next several decades, on both sides of Halifax Harbour.

Regional council heard Tuesday that many properties bordering the harbour — including sites with commercial and public works infrastructure — could be at risk of major flooding due to projected sea level change.

In one scenario, during the next 100 years or so, the harbour’s water level is predicted to rise by at least 73 centimetres, council’s meeting of committee of the whole was told.

It is part of a global trend prompted by climate change, municipal staff said.

Staff said the city should consider site-specific measures to address the rising-water concern. Council heard it will be much cheaper to plan ahead than to dish out money later, should disaster strike.

A harbour research group has been studying the water level in the Halifax-Dartmouth area, Bedford Basin and the Northwest Arm. Council voted to have the group of city staff, scientists and others look at all of Halifax Regional Municipality’s coastal communities.

From the Chronicle-Herald.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

South Carolina requires "subversives" to register with the government

Terrorists who want to overthrow the United States government must now register with South Carolina's Secretary of State and declare their intentions -- or face a $25,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.

The state's "Subversive Activities Registration Act," passed last year and now officially on the books, states that "every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States ... shall register with the Secretary of State."

There's even a $5 filing fee.

By "subversive organization," the law means "every corporation, society, association, camp, group, bund, political party, assembly, body or organization, composed of two or more persons, which directly or indirectly advocates, advises, teaches or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States [or] of this State."
From Raw Story, via skidder in this iTulip thread. The curious thing is, they don't define "overthrowing" the government in the statute, which is a little worrisome to say the least. Obviously advocating violence to change the system would qualify, but what else? Would advocating substantial reform of the system (proportional representation, abolition of the Electoral College, etc) count? Would campaigning to defeat an incumbent governor count? Who decides such matters?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

UK Conservatives may be losing their edge

They're still ahead of Labour, but they might not get the majority they want:

The ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph sees the Conservative lead narrowing since last month with David Cameron's party down one point on 39 per cent, Labour unchanged on 30 per cent and the Liberal Democrats up two on 20 per cent.

If repeated in at the general election there would be a hung parliament, with the Tories around 14 seats short of a majority. It is the first ICM poll to put the party below 40 per cent since last June, when the party lost support in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal.

Source. This could get interesting, depending on how insistent the Liberal Democrats are about matters such as electoral reform and the status of the House of Lords.

How much does Toyota have to worry about?

How serious are the problems facing Toyota? Gordon Pitts at the Globe and Mail has this to say:
As a management guru-in-training, U.S. business lecturer Steven Spear embarked on pilgrimages to a shrine of industrial efficiency about 320 kilometres west of Tokyo.

His destination was Toyota City, an industrial centre of 400,000 dominated by its major employer, Toyota Motor Corp. (TM-N74.712.934.08%) From this base, the car company had spawned an industrial revolution – as well as rewriting the vocabulary of business to encompass terms like just-in-time, total quality and lean manufacturing.

As he observed the company up close, something nagged at Mr. Spear. Toyota had pledged in the late 1990s to become the biggest car company in the world. It embarked on extraordinary growth, spawning new models, entering new regions and enlisting new suppliers outside its traditional family.

But as it grew, its old system of mentorship broke down, Mr. Spear says, and the culture of quality was not extending to outposts far from Toyota City. While he admired Toyota and spent much of his career studying it, Mr. Spear sometimes worried the company was an accident waiting to happen.
That makes it sound really bad. Maybe it is bad, but it looks like those who follow these matters particularly closely aren't too worried about these problems as regards actual safety:

Insurance rates for drivers of Toyota vehicles shouldn't be going up because of the recent recall, a spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada says.

Pete Karageorgos told CBC News a recall doesn't have any impact on the way rates are formulated.

"Recalls are basically issues that the manufacturers have with the vehicles, and what insurers look at over a period of time are the claims cost that a person or car model may have. How much does it cost to repair a vehicle and how often are certain vehicles involved in accidents — are they more expensive to repair?

"If there's a determination that there might be a fault with the vehicle [in an accident], then that would be investigated obviously through the use of engineering reports," Karageorgos said.

"If something is determined to be caused by a failure of product design where the manufacturer's at fault, insurance companies will typically then subrogate against that responsible party," he added.

From the CBC. Since insurance companies would no doubt grab the money if it was worth their while (can you imagine them giving anyone a break out of the kindness of their hearts?) one must conclude that they don't think it's worthwhile. Most likely, they expect the cars to be as safe as ever after this recall is dealt with. Of course, the buying public may not react the same way... but I suspect Toyota will come out of this fine in the long run.

Yet another thing to worry about

Modern agriculture is depleting topsoil way too fast:

Fertile soil is being lost faster than it can be replenished and will eventually lead to the “topsoil bank” becoming empty, an Australian conference heard.

Chronic soil mismanagement and over farming causing erosion, climate change and increasing populations were to blame for the dramatic global decline in suitable farming soil, scientists said.

An estimated 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost annually with more than 80 per cent of the world's farming land "moderately or severely eroded", the Carbon Farming conference heard.

A University of Sydney study, presented to the conference, found soil is being lost in China 57 times faster than it can be replaced through natural processes.

In Europe that figure is 17 times, in America 10 times while five times as much soil is being lost in Australia.

Soil is also a valuable store of carbon and can release the greenhouse gas if it is ploughed or dug up.

The conference heard world soil, including European and British soils, could vanish within about 60 years if drastic action was not taken.

This will lead to a global food crisis, chronic food shortages and higher prices, the conference heard.

Despite better than average farming practices, European soil might last for 100 years if no further damage occurs worldwide, scientists said.

In reality, however, increased land pressures aimed at compensating global production losses would likely mean it will run out faster, they added.
From the Telegraph. While stuff like this would allow food production to continue in industrialized countries, a huge chunk of the world's population lives in places that may not have the necessary infrastructure... which means mass starvation. Of course, we may see mass starvation well before then, depending on how much of an impact climate change has on agriculture.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Isn't nature wonderful?

This story is a few years old, but I'd never come across it before, and it's downright fascinating:

A parasitic worm that makes the grasshopper it invades jump into water and commit suicide does so by chemically influencing its brain, a study of the insects' proteins reveal.

The parasitic Nematomorph hairworm (Spinochordodes tellinii) develops inside land-dwelling grasshoppers and crickets until the time comes for the worm to transform into an aquatic adult. Somehow mature hairworms brainwash their hosts into behaving in way they never usually would - causing them to seek out and plunge into water.

Once in the water the mature hairworms - which are three to four times longer that their hosts when extended - emerge and swim away to find a mate, leaving their host dead or dying in the water. David Biron, one of the study team at IRD in Montpellier, France, notes that other parasites can also manipulate their hosts' behaviour: "'Enslaver' fungi make their insect hosts die perched in a position that favours the dispersal of spores by the wind, for example."

But the "mechanisms underlying this intriguing parasitic strategy remain poorly understood, generally", he says.

From the New Scientist. We might feel comforted in the fact that mammals' brains are a lot bigger than those of insects, so surely our behaviour couldn't be influenced by a parasite or pathogen. Or could it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The west side route suddenly makes a lot more sense

The controversy over the routing of Bipole III is one of the very few issues where the editorialists at the Free Press have been able to score legitimate points against the government. The government has good reasons for choosing the west side route, namely the desire to limit development on the relatively pristine east side, but the contrary view, namely that the extra cost (which is not insignificant) as well as the line losses will outweigh the benefits, is certainly defensible. However, the balance may have shifted significantly in the government's favour with this announcement (h/t Endless Spin Cycle):

Manitoba and Saskatchewan will look into improving the capacity of electric power transmission between the two provinces.

The decision is one of several to come out of a first-ever joint meeting of the two provincial cabinets today in Yorkton, Sask.

Of course, this isn't a fait accompli, but the western route is quite favourable for sending power to the west, and I've often wondered why they haven't brought this up before now. Perhaps they wanted to make sure they had something resembling a deal first. In any case, if this goes through it'll mean that Saskatchewan will burn less coal than before. Can't complain about that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Where the Cons' priorities lie

Cabinet ministers often meet with various interest groups. Nothing wrong with that; it's part of their job. One would think, though, that if you're environment minister, meeting with, well, environmental organizations would be important. However, if you're a Conservative environment minister, the rules are rather different:

Canada's leading environmentalists say they're losing interest in lobbying federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice because the government has locked itself into an environmental policy "bunker" and is not giving their ideas serious consideration.

Meanwhile, according to the Registry of Lobbyists, representatives for big oil companies frequently lobby the minister, and appear to be a major source of policy advice on energy and climate issues.

Following a decade of consultations that have resulted in virtually no action on climate change, environmentalists are now questioning whether it is even worth their time to lobby the minister.

From the Hill Times (my bold in the quote above).